Watermelons are racist symbols of ages past…
Earlier this month, a Detroit firefighter was fired before he officially began his first day on the job for bringing a ‘racially insensitive’ watermelon to work.
Robert Pattison, 41, went to introduce himself to his fellow firefighters at Engine 55 at Joy and Southfield in Detroit and followed tradition by bringing a gift.
Second Battallion Chief Shawn McCarty said it’s a station tradition for new firefighters to bring something to introduce themselves.
“It’s not mandatory, it’s voluntary,” he says. “You come in bearing gifts. The usual gift is doughnuts, but you are allowed to bring whatever you want to bring in.”
Pattison, who was a probationary firefighter, decided to stand out from the crowd and bring a watermelon with a pink bow on top.
Some black firefighters were reportedly offended by Pattison’s gesture since 90 percent of the firefighters at Engine 55 are black.
“When you get your first detail at a firehouse you pretty much know what you are getting yourself into,” said Patrick Trout. “So you would have to say it was probably a bad call.”
McCarty said that some people at the firehouse claim it is “racially insensitive” to bring a watermelon to a firehouse.
Pattison argued that he did not bring in the watermelon as a joke and had no intention of offending his colleagues.
Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said in a statement that Pattison was officially discharged:
There is zero tolerance for discriminatory behavior inside the Detroit Fire Department. On Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, at Engine 55, a trial firefighter (probationary employee) engaged in unsatisfactory work behavior which was deemed offensive and racially insensitive to members of the Detroit Fire Department. After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the best course of action was to terminate the employment of this probationary employee.
Despite Commissioner Jones’s statement, McCarty does not think Pattison should have lost his job over a watermelon.
“I don’t think so,” McCarty said. “Between what he did and what was there are a few things that could have been done.”
Several left-of-center outlets, including HuffPost and the Atlantic, have documented how watermelons are racist symbols of ages past. They primarily argue that the symbol was meant to characterize black people as unclean, lazy, childish, and an unwanted presence.